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U.K. to send 26,000 troops to Persian Gulf region

Defense secretary: Use of force not 'imminent or inevitable'

U.K. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the deployment was 'the right group of forces for the sort of tasks that may be necessary.'
U.K. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the deployment was 'the right group of forces for the sort of tasks that may be necessary.'

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Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei arrive in Baghdad saying inspections are an alternative to war. CNN's Nic Robertson reports (January 19)
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LONDON, England -- Britain is sending 26,000 troops to the Persian Gulf region for potential operations in Iraq, the U.K. defense secretary has announced.

Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons on Monday that the deployment would include 120 Challenger tanks and 150 Warrior armored personnel carriers.

Hoon said the deployment, which will take place during the next few weeks, would provide "the right group of forces for the sort of tasks that may be necessary."

He added that a deployment on this scale was "no ordinary measure," but he said "None of the steps we are taking represents a commitment of British forces to military action. A decision to employ force has not been taken, nor is such a decision imminent or inevitable."

The announcement was made as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the United Nations to stand firm against Iraq -- despite Baghdad saying it would do more to help U.N. weapons inspectors, including providing Iraqi scientists for interview. (Full story)

The U.S. Army also announced Monday that more than 12,000 soldiers from elements of the Army's mechanized 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, and almost 4,000 from the division's 3rd Brigade at Fort Carson, Colorado, are expected to deploy for the Central Command region, which includes the Persian Gulf. The deployment date is unknown. (Full story)

The British deployment will include the 7th Armored Brigade, known as the Desert Rats, and 16th Air Assault Brigade.

The British troops will supplement the 3,000 marines sent with a U.K. naval task force and 107,000 troops the U.S. has dispatched to the area. (Full story)

The British force carrying the 3,000 Royal Marine commandos set sail this month in the largest naval deployment in 20 years. It comprises 16 vessels, including an aircraft carrier, helicopter carrier and nuclear-powered submarine. (Full story)

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said the British military commitment to a potential war against Iraq "will be roughly the same numbers as in 1991," a reference to the Persian Gulf War.

The total so far announced is about 32,500 personnel, compared with 35,000 during the Gulf War, when the United States provided 360,000 servicemen and women.

Foreign secretary backs exile proposal

Hoon's statement came after British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw backed a proposal endorsed by the United States last weekend that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein be granted exile as a way of avoiding war.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Saddam's flight from Baghdad would be a "fair trade" for avoiding military conflict. (Full story)

Speaking to BBC Radio on Monday, Straw said: "I think it is a very sensible suggestion which we have got to examine.

"And although, of course, it would be unpalatable to see any degree of immunity being offered to the Saddam Hussein regime, as Donald Rumsfeld said, if the alternative is a war, I think most people would swallow hard and accept that it was, in his words, a fair trade."

Straw's comments came as he prepared to fly to New York for a meeting of foreign ministers at the United Nations.

He said he believed leaders in the Arab world were trying to encourage Saddam to give way.

"If, as I read, the Saudi government are keen on encouraging Saddam to leave Iraq, well, so much the better.

"Certainly when I talk to other Arab leaders, they all say that they would wish it to be resolved in that way, and they try to send messages to Saddam.

"Now the big question is, will he hear them in time -- because one thing is certain, the man cannot continue in the way that he is, failing fully to comply to U.N. resolutions and cocking a snook at the international community.

"[Arab leaders] all are sending Saddam messages to say, 'Look, the game is up, we know that you have had, and continue to have, weapons of mass destruction; we know that you are in clear breach of a whole sequence of U.N. Security Council resolutions; and in the interests of your own people as well as the rule of law in this region and international security, you have to comply with Security Council resolutions.'"

In other developments Monday, U.N. inspectors continued their visits to various sites in and near Baghdad, including the site of Iraq's long-range missile program, a center specializing in communicable diseases, an airfield used for agricultural projects, headquarters of an army battalion and a site linked to Saddam's elite Republican Guard north of Baghdad.

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